Christmas once had clear confines in Italy, getting into its sybaritic swing after a bank holiday for the Immaculate Conception (usually called just “Immacolata“) December 8. Depending on the region, there are other December holidays to get people in the mood; Milan also shuts down for patron St. Ambrose (Dec. 7) and some Northern cities celebrate Santa Lucia (Dec. 13).
Here, too, most people feel that Christmas has been creeping up on them. Last week, wandering around an empty Via Torino after the shops had closed, a friend and I spotted a lone zampognaro playing his bagpipes.
We looked at each other, laughing, checking that yes, we were going to a wine-tasting event, not coming from it. Normally you don’t see these simil-shepards until the country is “under Christmas,” (sotto natale) when they roam busy streets and people give them change. Maybe his wife wanted him out of the house?
It was a bad omen: a few days later merchant’s association Conferescenti managed to put a damper on festivities before they even started. As far as shopping goes, they predict a “thin Christmas” (natale magro), with people holding on to their wallets so tightly they’ll spend €336 million less than last year.
While there’s no Black Friday in Italy and shoppers have to wait for early January to hit twice-yearly sales, that doesn’t mean Bel Paese residents aren’t already looking for a few good gifts.
The refrain from Italians on the street — as interviewed by numerous news programs –was that they were only buying gifts for kids this year or small things like scarves and gloves.
Best variation on the theme: Benetton’s knit kit, spied at the checkout last Saturday. Big wooden needles and enough raspberry yarn for a scarf come in what looks like a beverage container, it costs less than what you’d pay to get something decent at the market (€15, about $22).
Of course, the recipient has to actually make the gift (pattern and instructions supplied) but it’s a little better than, well, nothing and lends itself to the idea of two friends having a good catch-up gab on a cold winter day.